Singapore was the 29th country to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix and it has turned out to be a success story ever since.
When the Singapore Grand Prix was first introduced to the Formula 1 calendar for the 2008 season, the Paddock was full of critical voices against yet another race in an Asian country without any F1 fanbase or tradition. But they were proven wrong. “Singapore has worked from day one”, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said. And he is right. But why has this project worked out so well, while the Grands Prix in Turkey, Korea or India have all failed?
For long experts have urged that Formula 1 needs to race, where the fans are, i.e. in or very near metropolitan areas. The Marina Bay Street Circuit is located in the heart of Singapore’s capital, held on public streets with race cars chasing past all sights of interest. The Singapore GP is a Monaco 2.0 race, if you like. “I can remember the first time we raced at Singapore. It seemed incredible to think we could race at night. I must say, the thrill and novelty of racing on floodlit streets is just as intense for me today as it was back then” The Singapore Grand Prix is a unique spectacle, and one that I think is brilliant for F1. In fact, it’s one of the wonders of modern sport”, 2009 world champion Jenson Button wallowed in pleasure. The night race concept has been so successful that Abu Dhabi and Bahrain have followed holding day-night races, and Sochi officials have declared that the 2015 Russian Grand Prix shall also become a day-night or a night event. “Everybody loves night races. The fans, the experts and the drivers”, Ecclestone added.
It’s all there
The pedigree of the annual highlight in the Monegasque principality is close races, luxurious sports cars, yachts and shops, star guests and royalty, and tradition, of course. Many of these ingredients can also be found at the Asian city state. Races in the streets of Singapore have always been exciting, action-packed with loads of overtaking and crashes. The circuit itself features several unique passages like a tunnel underneath a spectator stand, a run-off area into a stand and the feared sling chicane. “Singapore is an exciting event, but a very tough race. It has all the low-speed challenges of Monaco, yet the temperature and humidity of Malaysia. Thus you get tropical conditions for nearly two hours on an attention-holding Monaco-like circuit. The dispatch of the Safety car can push it right up to the two-hour limit. Still the atmosphere racing past the skyscrapers in the middle of the night is simply amazing”, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso said, who won the maiden race in 2008 and the 2010 edition.
The race has all it takes to become a classic. I might even go as far and say that it already has become one, even though we have only had six editions.
Money and wealth are omnipresent in the five-million inhabitant city. Glamour was added to the event by hosting the famous Amber Lounge after party at the opening Grand Prix, and by becoming the second location to host the Amber Lounge Fashion show in 2010. And racing has even got tradition in Singapore: The first race was organised in 1907, the first Grand Prix in 1961, initially known as the Orient Year Grand Prix. It was later held as the Malaysian Grand Prix until Singapore attained its independence in 1965. Since then the race at the Thomson Road circuit was called the Singapore Grand Prix, which was discontinued after 1973 following several fatal accidents. In November 2007, Ecclestone signed a five-year deal with the Singapore GP Pte Ltd and the Singapore Tourism Board, which has already been extended to 2017.
The comeback race cost about EUR 90 million, but the 110,000 tickets were sold out in less than a fortnight. “The race has all it takes to become a classic. I might even go as far and say that it already has become one, even though we have only had six editions”, three-time Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel said. Beyond the floodlights, race cars, and glamour, the event has turned into a business opportunity for hotels and retailers attracting tourists that make up about 40 percent of the spectators. According to the Singapore Tourism Board, every year the race adds over EUR 100 million on top of the overall tourist receipts. GP tourists spend around EUR 80 million annually, and the total revenue is about EUR 175 million.
Understanding the crowd
Moreover, different to other locations, such as Turkey, but also Germany, the organisers have understood that fans also expect a manifold sideshow off the track considering the average ticket price of EUR 600 per race weekend. “Recent have shown us that the fans want more than just the race. Watching Formula 1 is pretty expensive, so you need a show. What Red Bull did at the Austrian Grand Prix was the standard that all GP organisers should aim for”, Mercedes Motorsport boss Niki Lauda said. Hence, the 2014 race, for example, will feature a full slate of on-and off-track activities including 49 entertainment acts from 20 countries; such as Jennifer Lopez, Robbie Williams, or Ziggy Marley, illusionist Andrew Mayne, Korean percussionists Drum Cat, etc. A Hawker Village will be erected with 10 stalls offering local and international cuisine operating in an open-concept environment.
“We were thrilled to receive excellent feedback from our patrons on their overall experience at the Marina Bay Street Circuit last year. One of the trends was that people are coming in through our gates earlier to fully maximise their time in the Circuit Park, indicating that fans have come to appreciate our entertainment programming over the years. Ticketholders have plenty to see and do from the minute they enter” said Michael Roche, Executive Director of the Singapore GP. On the track, ahead of the main event, a selection of 20 historic F1 cars all the way back to 1966 will compete in a showdown.
“I think, it’s a great idea to bring these historic cars to Asia, because unlike in Europe most fans will never have seen them, least of all, in action. It adds to the show, but also tells people more about the background of Formula 1,” triple world champion Lauda added. The 2014 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix will take place on September 21.